Testing your ideas quickly and easily is essential for good game design, and versatile components help with that. But trying to shuffle index cards or sticking and resticking labels to a posterboard leads to mangled, unattractive prototypes that can be hard to adjust and worse, to get an audience to test. Here’s an overview of what Whirling Derby keeps on hand for putting together beta test versions of our games:

1. Dice

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Serving double duty for Pathfinder nights, dice of different colors and shapes can be used as pawns, health counters, and, of course, random number generators. For our steampunk dice game Rig, our prototypes were Fate Dice with stickers on them.

2. Cards and Card Sleeves

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Investing in some blank cards (The Game Crafter occasionally has sales that make them extra cheap) and card sleeves means never having to cut through cardstock, and never worrying if your cards are the same size. Sleeving and backing your prototype cards with blank ones gives you a durable, opaque, shuffleable card that’s easy to adjust both front and back with normal printer paper.

3. Personal Paper Cutter

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Look for these in the scrapbooking section of your local craft store. These things run about $20 and will save your hand from the pain of scissors-cramping when you’re cutting up hundreds of cards to send more beta versions out to your testers or trading print-and-play games with a fellow designer. Worth every penny.

4. Bit Box

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Craft stores like Michaels and Jo-Ann make segmented boxes for beading, and they’re perfect for holding extra cubes, pawns, chips, and tokens of all kinds.

5. Game Boards

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Though we usually go for a nice printing at the Game Crafter to lure in playtesters with shiny graphics, we also found our local education store sells blank game boards. Combine these with strategic use of low tack label paper and you have an instantly adjustable board!

6. Just About Anything From An Educational Store

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When we were trying to find game pieces that we could mix and match components on for our upcoming worker-builder-placement game? Unifix cubes. When we were trying to make them look like alien heads? Googly eyes. Counting cubes, dice, fake money, lamination services… education stores are gold mines for prototypers.

What’s in your prototyping collection? And what tricks have you learned for prototyping your games? Let us know in the comments!

Christina Major

Artist/Designer at Whirling Derby

Christina does freelance graphic design for board game publishers with her husband Mark Major, is the wig-wearing half of Whirling Derby, and draws/authors a webcomic over at sombulus.com

7 Readers Commented

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  1. Tom Jolly on March 3, 2014

    I find that a heavy-duty papercutter is invaluable and well worth the cost, and you will never regret getting one. If you’re making game boards that involve self-building boards (like Drakon or Vortex) where you’re cutting up lots of chipboard, it’s really a wrist-saver. I also have a stack of sheets of chipboard that I use for game-board paste-ups.

  2. Brad on March 3, 2014

    I’ve got an assortment of colored bingo chips and glass beads (good for markers or resources), a bag of cheap plastic gold coins from Oriental Trading Company that are leftovers from a birthday party, some blank dice with recessed faces for stickers as well as the usual card sleeves and chip board.

  3. Eric Cesare on March 3, 2014

    I’m with Brad. A high-quality paper cutter is by far one of the best investments we have made for prototyping. A corner clipper is a great compliment too when you get to that point where you want to give things a little polish!

  4. Chad on March 3, 2014

    Powerpoint is always my first step. Simpler and quicker then Photoshop.
    Here’s my current project in the prototype/ test phase that started in powerpoint.
    http://www.facebook.com/b0mbrun Please LIKE!

  5. Luke Laurie on April 20, 2014

    I’ve recently discovered that our dollar store has some cool and cheap stuff for prototyping, especially poster board.

  6. let-off studios on April 20, 2014

    I have nearly two full shelves of components ready to be used for my prototypes and ideas. Seems like I always find room for more, though…

    Some educational supply and game component websites I frequent – and strongly recommend – are:

    hand2mind.com (check their outlet section periodically for some hidden gems)

    eaieducation.com (truly fantastic selection of stuff here!)

    printplaygames.com (just learned about this one and my initial purchases are very nice)

    thegamecrafter.com (the first I ever heard of, and my main go-to site for prototype printed materials)

  7. George J on July 30, 2014

    A few things that I have in my (growing) collection of prototyping materials:

    Circle Cutters – for quickly cutting tokens and stuff out of card stock or even matboard. I’ve found that the EK Tools punches are big enough and sharp enough to cut matboard (at least 3/4″ and up): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0090JVBP0/

    Storage Containers – I’ve found the cheap-o Glad or Ziplock or generic brand food storage containers are great for keeping all the little components of a game-in-progress together. And larger containers are great for keeping everything together, including boards,instructions, etc.

    I’ve also found that matboard and foam core are great for prototyping non-standard game boards and tiles.

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